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Identity Theft Resolution Center »

What is Identity Theft?

How Your Identity is Stolen

In This Article
  • Common methods of identity thieves
  • Sources of data for criminals
  • How a thief can use stolen information

Identity thieves have become increasingly savvy at gaining access to people's personal information. There is a lucrative black market for stolen identities, leading to elaborate schemes to steal your personal information.

You may already be aware of these common methods that criminals use:
  • Open new credit card accounts in your name
  • Hacking into a bank, credit union or credit card company database (data breach)
  • Stealing bank or credit card statements from your mail
  • Stealing your Personal Identity Number (PIN) at an ATM, gas station or grocery store
  • Cloning credit card information at restaurants and bars where you swipe your credit and debit cards or hand them to servers who process the charge behind closed doors
  • Theft of information from retailers, which may be low-tech, like grabbing a day's receipts, or high-tech, as when a hacker breaks into a store's customer rewards program database
  • Dumpster diving - the act of going into people's garbage for pre-approved credit card offers, bank statements or other discarded material that may contain personal information
  • Phishing - when a scammer sends an e-mail that appears to come from your bank or another legitimate company, asking you for personal information, such as your credit card or Social Security number
  • Phishing scams may also be conducted by telephone, with an unknown caller claiming to represent your bank or credit card issuer
  • Employees at an auto dealership or mortgage lender who steal consumer's personal data in order to access credit histories for identity theft purposes


Thieves can also obtain data from other sources that may surprise you:
  • Data breach from school or university via stolen laptops - thieves may only be after the hardware, but then discover data on the hard drives
  • Doctor's offices or medical insurance companies where your Social Security number may be stored or used as a policy number
  • County Recorder's office where your house deed is registered and recorded
  • County Municipal Hall where you file and get official marriage, birth, and death certificates
  • These certificates have your entire family's address, SSN, DOB, DOD, telephone number and other personal details
  • Hospital where you gave birth since the application for your new baby's Social Security number is filled out at the hospital
  • Car dealerships where you bought your present and past cars
  • They usually attach your latest credit report and score to your purchase document
  • Annual earnings statements that the Social Security Administration mails out
  • Veterans Administration, its affiliates and hospitals
  • They not only have information on military personnel but also on the families and beneficiaries of veterans
  • Previous employers that have your SSN, your past and present names (aka maiden name), past and future addresses, your old W2s, 401K and beneficiary forms, etc
  • Human Resource departments of companies where you've applied for employment
  • Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) information
  • Airline "Frequent Flyer" clubs
  • Grocery store "Preferred Customer" clubs
  • Sports associations
  • Library cards
  • Payday check cashing outlets
  • Passport centers


Once identity thieves have your personal information, they may use it in a variety of ways:
  • Take out major loans in your name and not pay off the debt
  • Open a bank account in your name and write bad checks
  • Forge checks on your account and cash them at your bank to clean out your account
  • Change the billing address on your credit card and run up charges on your account
  • Clone your ATM or debit cards and make electronic withdrawals in your name
  • Steal your Social Security number and possibly your retirement benefits
  • Commit telephone or utilities fraud, opening up new accounts in your name
  • Begin an entire new life to hide their criminal record, getting a driver's license or official I.D. using your name and their picture. Or, they may present your identity to police or court authorities after being arrested, creating a criminal record in your name.


Keeping thieves from obtaining your personal information is more important than ever with more and more incidences of identity theft reported every year.

Always use caution when discarding documents or sharing sensitive information with a person, business or even doctor's office.

©2011 ConsumerInfo.com, Inc. All rights reserved.